Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

Leadership styles for directing small teams

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Leadership differs depending on the size of the group you’re leading. For most product managers, the people they lead work on different teams and the individuals they need to influence don’t report to them. Regardless of whether the people you lead (or should be leading) report to you, the need to lead soundly is important.

Understanding more deeply your style of leadership will help you lead more effectively. The work will go better, and you’ll enjoy it more.

Leadership styles

The keys to successful leadership include knowing yourself well, understanding your own strengths and weaknesses, and adjusting to your team and circumstances. That’s an undertaking that requires time and effort but pays off in the long run.

There are three orientations that most leaders of small groups fall into. Some leaders have strengths in one area, while others span the different styles with ease. The following descriptions will help you determine the style that fits:

  1. Principle-oriented: A principle-focused leader follows guidelines and strategies that are known and widely accepted. Product managers who follow this orientation have a well-documented, proven set of values they lead with. For example, they have a well-defined approach for understanding the markets their products serve, and they use a set of tested processes and templates consistently for their market inquiries.
  2. Organization-oriented: Leaders who practices this style focus on the bigger organization and makes sure everything under their watch builds up the greater group. If you’re an organization-oriented product manager, you likely spend considerable time meeting with executives and other company leaders to ensure you’re building the products the company agrees they need.
  3. People-oriented: With this style leaders focus on individuals. They get to know their team members well and help them in significant ways but may neglect organizational requirements. As a product manager you need to know the individuals on the teams you’re working with, and understand what drives them and strive to do the most efficient work possible.

All of these styles have their strengths and are important. The potential problem is focusing too much on one style at the detriment of the others. As leaders we need to seek for a better balance and symmetry in our development. We should strive to understand our tendencies and adjust in ways that will be most beneficial for those we lead.

Questions: Which leadership style do you lean toward? How do you balance your leadership? Please leave a comment in the space below.


The Product Management Perspective: A key to successful product management is balance. Given the many, and different tasks PMs have to do, we have to strike a balance, or we’ll be inundated by too much busywork. Take time to understand your style strengths, and work on the ones you need to improve.

Note: Ideas for the three orientations originated from the book “…A More Excellent Way” by the late Neal A. Maxwell.

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